I'm an airline pilot with arguably too much time off. I have done a lot of kitchens for people in my spare time, but I feel like I'm at a crossroads in my life. I love woodworking but it seems to be taking over my life.
Do I give up flying and really pursue my passion of woodworking (which lets face it can be really stressful) or forget and continue flying which pays well and involves pretty much no stress or thought. My wife says "Why make life hard? Stick to the flying - itís easy most of the time and pays well." I guess I like the feeling of being my own boss, doing what I want when I want.
Has anybody out there been in this situation with any advice to add?
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor L:
Flying with no stress or thought? I have piloted and I have never been busier in my life. Just as you have become familiar with all the systems and responses with flying, so it is with cabinetmaking. It has its systems and rules and predictable outcomes. Or, it should have, if you're doing it right. The fun of this business is, among other things is the precision of what youíre making. Others are selling, knowing your products, refining something new. Itís something really cool developing a new career. You can always go back to flying.
Woodworking was in my blood. It consumed all my free time mentally and physically. I found myself looking at pieces of furniture and cabinetry and wondering and figuring out how it was made. It became an obsession and I found myself making pieces for friends and family for "at cost" and my family life started to suffer. One day, my wife gave it to me straight - either get a job in a cabinet shop and make time for the family, or else. I took her strong advice and found a shop that needed help.
I gave up the great job, the benefits, the 401K, medical and dental all to work for a decrease in pay, no medical, no dental, no 401K and to work as a "rookie" doing all the sanding and "gofer" stuff. Working at a cabinet shop did indeed make time for my family and I have learned some great skills.
Letís analyze this:
PROS: You will learn new skills and will get great satisfaction from your work until it gets old and repetitive. You will be able to make anything after a period of time and you might make friends with like minded individuals. You will get your fill of woodworking in no time.
CONS: There is a high probability that you will work with people half your age that have "questionable" backgrounds or donít speak English as a first language and no cultural similarities. You will definitely take a pay cut and more than likely a benefit and every other cut. You will get tired of making the same thing everyday and there isnít much time for socializing while you work. You will do manual labor lifting 4 by 8 sheets of MDF (heavy and cumbersome) to the saw, installing drawer guides which will require a lot of bending and stooping. You will be dog tired at the end of every day. The owners have a schedule to keep and itís up to you to make it happen.
I love what I do now and I am experienced and I can work in any shop in the country doing whatever needs to be done, but if I had it all to do over, I would. Why, my family comes first and I got to spend quality time with my children while they were young rather than being in the garage all the time. Sure it was financial pay cut, but the rewards I have with my family are priceless. On a professional level, it gives me great pride to know that the owner of my shop can come to me and ask me to do something complicated and I can do it exactly the way itís supposed to be done and in a timely manner. Find what makes you happy and do it.
I would suggest trying this. Find a shop in your area and ask them if you can work a couple days out of the week on your free time at their shop. Ask them if you can "shadow" one of their best employees and you will see what all is involved in "woodworking" as a profession. If you like it then go for it.
One day the company got bought out for its assets and I found myself unemployed. So I jumped in with both feet and started full time. That was 3 years ago. I now have 2 employees and should do about $400K in business this year. I am looking to double my shop size this year to 5200 square feet and hopefully double my sales next year.
Working for myself has been very rewarding. You need to be self employed to know what that means. My future is controlled by me and only limited by my ability and ambition. But I hire more ability if needed. I have found that at this stage more of my work is business related and less woodworking, but I still love it. Business - estimating, selling, budgeting, managing, selling, accounting, advertising, selling. It does not stop and you need to be ready for it. I highly recommend making the change to a second career.
If you truly love doing woodworking for the love of it then do it part time. It is wonderful to have the time to devote to a small project without having to worry if you are making money on it. Build things for the love of it. You have been given the gift of being a talented pilot and having financial security. If you have a love and obsession with woodworking then rent a small space and fill it full of tools. You don't have to quit your job to do that. Be realistic about your goals.
Jumping into a business with no prior experience is a recipe for disaster. Being able to build things is great. Being able to make a living off of the things that you build is another thing altogether. Most small business owners work 80 hours a week for the first 5 years that the business is open. 80% of small business ventures fail in the first 5 years. I am not trying to throw cold water on your idea. I just want you to go in with eyes wide open.
If you do decide to damn the torpedoes and go ahead; then get your space and tools and 2 years worth of living expenses and overhead in the bank before you quit being a pilot. Understand that you will be taking a pay cut. You will have extra expenses like health insurance, self employment taxes, and retirement. If you go in fully prepared then you will be that much more likely to make it.
I have been on the flip side - my woodworking business now brings the paycheck home, but my passion is music. But playing 2 or 3 nights a week can make my hobby a break-even proposition, just like garage based wood-working.
I think you are wise to reduce the hours you fly, i.e. free up enough time to do more of your hobby, and keep it a hobby, until the money issue doesn't matter (early retirement), or until you have the skills and business plan that will pull it all together.
No one can legally hire you for free. A couple of days at a shop here and there will teach you a tremendous amount. You are bright enough that you don't need to do the same thing for 3 months - basically you want the opportunity to see how experienced trades people do something, and then move on to a different shop if the owners don't mentor you aggressively.
I worked for others for 4 years, then started on my own. My first year, I posted a $16,000 loss. I'm in a good niche (we specialize in restoring heritage buildings). Still though, I can see it might not be long (2-3 years) before I buy a CNC to produce many of the fun and challenging projects we work by hand currently. There's a lot of competition even in the niche markets. You have to be very good on the business end. Not that I'm going back. I love what I do and find new challenges every day. But if you like your current job, with its security and time off, I'd be doing a whole lot of research before making a jump.
Luck has nothing to do with having a woodworking business you can rely on to bring you a full time income, pay for all its operating expenses, provide you with the security you and your family want, and make a profit on top of that. Planning has everything to do with it.
You can easily become prey to the small business syndrome of being a slave to your business, letting it run your life, and settling for low margin jobs and a mediocre income. However with the proper "flight plan" you can easily structure your business to "work for you" and bring it revenue and income you want.
Being your own boss in your own business is a tremendous feeling, especially when your business is consistently profitable. You not only get to call all the shots and work your own hours, you also get tremendous satisfaction in producing tangible products that people love and become a respected community leader.
Take the time to develop a plan for success ahead of time and your business will be a success. Make sure to plan in advance how your business will operate, what your business goals are, how your business will be structured, how you'll craft your products, what you'll sell, who you'll sell it to, how you'll promote your business, how you'll price your products, what your income will be, what your target profit margin will be, etc. If you take the time to do this up front, you'll quickly learn if becoming a full time woodworker is feasible for you, and if it is, how you'll get it done.